A will ensures that the distribution of your assets and property is carried out according to your wishes after your death.
But a will is about much more than property and money. It is also used for the following reasons:
To name an executor to carry out the distribution of your estate
If you want to appoint guardians for your children and their property
For trusts for your children or other beneficiaries
To pick a guardian for your pets
Donations to charity
To write down what you would like for your funeral
To reduce your inheritance tax bill
If you would like to leave something specific to a person or company
The division of an estate after death can be hard to negotiate at an already upsetting time. Emotions will be high and sorting out the wishes and estate of the person who has died can lead to arguments. This is especially true with complicated wills and big estates.
A will lays out your wishes and reduces conflict and speculation about what you would have wanted. It can help your family at a distressing time and alleviate some of the paperwork and stress involved in sorting out your estate.
If you die without a will, you will be deemed to have died intestate. Your estate will be dealt with according to a rigid set of Intestacy Laws.
If this happens, a court will decide things like who should look after your children.
A will can be written by anyone as long as it's signed by the will writer and witnesses as required by law. There are plenty of DIY kits available to buy online and in stationery shops. There are also books and websites that can provide guidance on writing a will.
It’s important that it’s correctly written otherwise it could be challenged in court due to conflicting details or poorly written instructions.
This is why many people hire a solicitor to write their will – especially if it deals with a sizable estate with several different assets and investments. Solicitors can ensure your will is valid and are also regulated, so if there is a problem with the will a complaint can be lodged with the company that drafted it and the Legal Ombudsman if necessary.
A solicitor’s service comes at a fee, however, and is usually more expensive than using an online will writing company.
If you want to hire a solicitor to write your will, it's a good idea to choose someone who you have worked with before, or someone referred to you by friends or family.
Another way would be to consult the Law Society. They represent and regulate solicitors and are a good resource for trusted and reputed professionals.
Solicitors' costs vary from firm to firm. For a simple will, you can expect to pay somewhere between £70 and £100. The more complex the will, the higher the cost.
An executor is someone who carries out the instructions set out in your will after you die. You can appoint more than one.
Who you name as an executor is a vital part of writing your will. It's a complex and demanding role, often involving the distribution of large sums of money.
When considering your executor, choose someone you trust and who is willing to take on the responsibility. You may also want to name a substitute executor as back-up if your primary executor is unable to carry out the duties.
A trust is an arrangement that allows you to transfer your estate to someone you know you can depend on, while you are still alive.
Using a trust means that after you die your appointed trustee(s) will be in charge of passing your estate on to your beneficiaries, i.e. people who will inherit from your estate. This may be the case if you want to leave money to your children, for their education for example. It also means your estate does not go through the legal process of administering a dead person's will, known as probate.
Setting up a trust generally requires the help of a solicitor. This includes the appointment of trustees to oversee and maintain your estate until it's passed on to your beneficiaries.
Establishing a trust can have some tax advantages, especially for married couples. It could also possibly save your children up to £110,000 in inheritance tax.
A legacy is a gift that you leave to a specific person or charity. You will encounter the term 'legacies' both when making a will, and if you ever go through the probate process
If you want to protect particular items, such as family heirlooms, consider treating them as specific legacies. Name them in your will and give instructions on who should take over their ownership once you die.
When writing a will in England or Wales, you need to sign it in front of two independent witnesses in order for it to be valid. The purpose of having two witnesses is to prove the circumstances around the actual writing of the will.
But there are rules about who can and can't be witnesses to your will. Witnesses must:
Be two independent people
Not benefit from your will
Not be blind or partially sighted
Have sufficient mental capacity
Your husband/wife or civil partner
Any of your beneficiaries
The husband/wife or civil partner of a beneficiary in your will
Anyone under 18 years old
Anyone who is blind or partially sighted
Anyone who does not have sufficient mental capacity to understand what they are witnessing.
Once the will has been written and signed, make sure that it's kept in a safe place and can be found easily.
This could be in a storage facility, where it will be protected from fire, flood, damage or loss.
Your executors will be given certificates telling them where your will is stored and how to get hold of it after your death.
For more information about safe storage, speak with your solicitor.
Free Wills Months take place in October and March. During these months people aged 55 and over can get a will written (or updated) by a solicitor for free. Although some do ask that you make a small donation as a token of your appreciation.
This service mainly covers simple wills for individuals or couples who want 'mirror wills' in which only one of you needs to be over 55. If your estate is more complicated, it's possible the solicitor may charge a fee for the time spent on writing your will.
Other charities offering free will writing services include:
Will Aid: A scheme that runs annually in November involving nine charities, including Age UK and Save the Children and more than 500 solicitor firms around the UK. During the month you can have your will written in exchange for a donation to the charities involved.
Cancer Research UK: Anyone over 55 can get a simple will drawn up for free using the Cancer Research UK Free Will Service. Visit the charity's website to find a participating solicitor nearest to you, or you can call their Regional Legacy Team on 0300 123 7733.
The Stroke Association: The organisation offers simple will writing services. To get info, either email firstname.lastname@example.org, complete the online form on The Stroke Association website, or call 020 7566 1505.
Salman is our personal finance editor with over 10 years’ experience as a journalist. He has previously written for Finder and regularly provides his expert view on financial and consumer spending issues for local and national press such as The Express, Travel Daily, and The Daily Star.